Ramadan is slightly different this year due to the pandemic that we are facing in the world. It is important to know that prolong periods of fasting may weaken the immune system so its essential to try and maintain good nutrition.
I am often asked about Ramadan and nutrition with the most common question being “how can I eat properly during Ramadan?” Most people see the blessed month of Ramadan as a time when they lose muscle mass whilst others gain weight due to overeating. I am going to share some of my top tips on how to prevent this and maximise your nutritional intake, maintain adequate hydration and prepare for this holy month.
Firstly let's go through what happens to your body during Ramadan. During fasting hours, your body uses it stores of carbohydrates and fat to provide energy once the energy intake consumed during Suhoor have been used. As our body cannot store water, the kidneys conserve as much water as possible by reducing the amount lost in urine but the body cannot avoid losing some water through urine, skin, sweat and through breathing.
During Ramadan, you’re eating two main meals: before you fast (Suhoor) and after you fast (Iftar) with possibly snacks between. The big question is how can you achieve optimal nutrition during these meals and snack?
As there are risks of becoming dehydrated which can in turn affect different aspects of health and especially during long hot April days it is essential to get enough fluids when you’re able to eat and drinking water should be a priority. As it’s not always physically possible to drink 2-3litres of water between Suhoor and Iftar due to the short time frame. Eating foods such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, oranges and watermelon, hydrate your body.
2. Focus on protein and fibre at Suhoor
As it is impossible to prevent hunger prangs as Ramadan requires you to fast more than 16hours, it’s important to know that you are able to delay these hunger prangs by eating correctly during Suhoor. This includes adding protein rich foods such as eggs, peanut butter, beans, chicken and cheese. Also including fibre such as oats, wheat, apples, pears and wholegrain will keep you fuller for longer, help keep you going and are crucial for your digestive system.
3. Consume nutrient dense meals
Ramadan has a window of 7-8hours to eat, make every calorie count by choosing nutrient dense foods and try to ensure your meal consists of ¼ complex carbohydrates, ¼ protein, ½ vegetables. Try avoiding energy dense meals with little nutrients such as fried foods, pastries, ready made meals and meals high in sugar and fat which lack nutrients. I’ve put together some ideas or ingredients to use for Suhoor and Iftar (below).
Also whilst desserts are definitely delicious it’s important to try and not consume heavy deserts on a daily basis. Instead try to go for a lighter option such as a bowl of Greek yoghurt with berries.
4. Consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement
It can be difficult to eat 5-7 services of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, meats, beans and dairy every day. A multi vitamin and mineral supplement can help maintain the essential vitamins and minerals that you are unable to consume during Ramadan and prevent fatigue.
5. Don’t overeat
I know how difficult it can be to not overeat during Iftar as after fasting over 16hours you just want to eat anything in front of you. It’s important to start Iftar with a glass of water (to prevent dehydration) and a few dates (which are easy to digest and decrease the great hunger feeling you will have). We also know that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) recommend us to eat dates before Iftar. Also please try and avoid foods, which are high in sodium such as commercial bread, canned eats, fried foods, sauces and soups.
Here are a few tips and ingredients to use for Suhoor and Iftar
Suhoor (Pre-Dawn meal)
Its important to drink plenty of water for Suhoor, eat a good blend of protein, complex carbohydrates and essentials fats (good fats). Some Suhoor foods that I would recommended include:
Yoghurt- provides protein, calcium, iodine, B vitamins and contains fluid. You can mix it with fruit and nuts for a nutrient dense snack/meal.
It is essential to focus on rehydration during Iftar and in Islam we break our fast with dates and water, which combined works nutritionally. Dates have always been used during Ramadan and they contain a high content of potassium, which is an essential rehydration mineral. Aim to have a balanced meal with protein rich foods like meat, fish, eggs or beans, complex carbohydrates and also include fresh vegetables to your salad, which will help with rehydration as these have a high water, vitamin and mineral content.
Remember that Ramadan is NOT a diet and its essential to keep your dietary intake steady and keep safe during these unprecedented times.
I wish you all a safe and blessed Ramadan!